Remote Work At Parse.ly
New York, NY
* As of February 2020
Parse.ly Remote Company Q&A
Allie VanNest, - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Parse.ly partners with digital publishers to provide clear audience insights through an intuitive analytics platform. It is built specifically for teams producing and distributing online content. It automatically visualizes data in relation to site structure, such as posts (articles), authors, sections, CMS tags and traffic sources. All metrics are available in live-refreshing real-time dashboards and a drill-down interface over historical data.
Thousands of writers, editors, site managers, and technologists already use Parse.ly to understand what content draws in website visitors, and why. Using our powerful dashboards and APIs, customers build successful digital strategies that allow them to grow and engage a loyal audience.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
The product team at Parse.ly has always had the option to work remotely. This is one way that co-founders Andrew Montalenti and Sachin Kamdar decided to differentiate the company.
How important is remote work to your business model?
Sachin Kamdar and Andrew Montalenti co-founded Parse.ly after spending their first few years out of college becoming disillusioned with the failures of large organizations (waste, engineering mismanagement, etc.). They decided to create a company where people would want to work, and knew intrinsically that one of the ways they could keep their team happy and productive was to create an environment that was suited to each individual’s needs. The best way to accomplish this is through a distributed team.
Parse.ly’s entire product, engineering, and design team is distributed across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. However, we also have a “central office” in New York, New York is where our business team works (sales, marketing, and customer success). Here, Parse.ly offers the perks of a start-up — standing desks, flexible hours, work-from-home options, continuous learning, equipment budgets, limiting unnecessary meetings, etc. — while making sure to take employees’ work-life balance seriously.
Giving employees time and space to meld their personal passions and work styles with Parse.ly’s business goals has been one of the most effective ways that Sachin and Andrew have found to inspire and energize their staff.
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
Parse.ly engineers report that the biggest benefit of the fully distributed team is being able to really focus on their work, and thus produce great things. Almost everyone on the team used to work in an office environment where it was not uncommon to be interrupted throughout the day by the people sitting next to you.
Our CEO and Co-founder Sachin Kamdar has said: “For engineers, the working day mimics the way a car operates. In a car, you can’t go straight to gear six where it has the most optimized performance. Instead, the car has to go through gears 1 through 5 before it gets to that final ‘flow’ state. And if you stop the car, it doesn’t then get back to gear six just because it was there before. Engineering productivity works in much the same way where there are a select few hours during the day where they have revved up to the flow state and are producing the best code. If you interrupt an engineer, then you’re disrupting this state and it can take them a while to get back there again.
“Giving each engineer the opportunity to create their environment that’s most conducive getting to and maintaining the gear six is a huge benefit. It allows us to be more productive as a team, create better product for our customers, and create a sustainable business that gives every employee the flexibility to find their rhythm. The Parse.ly team has become happier, more productive, and more focused as a result.”
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
Working remotely offers our employees many benefits. First and foremost, different people prefer different environments to reach their peak focus and their peak creativity. Having a distributed team allows us to “swarm” on problems we encounter as a company. It keeps our team members happy, because they can work when and where they want.
What traits do you look for in candidates for a remote job?
We consider our remote candidates no different from in-office candidates. Most of our business team is in office, and most product is remote, but that isn’t a hard, fast rule for who we hire for which location.
In the interview process, we look for people who are self-starters, entrepreneurial, and good communicators. These are three skills that are absolutely necessary among any distributed team member.
How do you conduct interviews for remote jobs?
If someone can’t come to our office for an interview, we use Google Hangouts or video calls to conduct a remote interview, regardless of where they will actually end up working. It allows us to have them speak with our team members in all kinds of working situations and understand how important communication platforms are to how we work.
How do you convey your remote culture in the recruiting process?
The remote culture is communicated in the same way for our remote and on-site job seekers, because it’s such an integral part of our company and how we communicate.
Do you have remote communication protocols for your remote workers?
All of our teams have their own channels within Flowdock (similar to Slack) and weekly scheduled meetings to get everyone on the same page. Remote team members take part in these meetings via Google Hangouts. We don’t necessarily believe in imposing strict rules on reply times or mandatory communication. A big part of our company culture is respecting team members as adults with their own time management and priorities. Our team members, both in-office and remote, get their work done in a timely manner and know what is best for their own productivity, so we’ve never felt it necessary to impose this kind of rule. If anything, the expectation of constant and expedient availability might interrupt the workflow. That being said, there is an expectation that team members are looped in on projects and available at some point within a work-day, as a tenet of remote work is the communication we get from platforms and emails.
We try to sync all of our team members about once a month with a Town Hall meeting where we overview what each team has accomplished, what they’re working on, and how we can help one another.
Do your remote team members meet in person?
Our central New York office serves as a hub for remote workers and team members who are in the office every day. We accommodate any remote team members who may want to travel into the office for a meeting or just to be in that social setting with their coworkers. We also organize corporate retreats, which build camaraderie but also offer opportunities for face-to-face collaboration. These take place a few times a year in a different city, so everyone is meeting up and exploring a new place.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
Andrew Montalenti, Parse.ly co-founder and CTO, has said:
“The biggest thing missing from fully distributed teams is true face-to-face communication. There are a lot of subjective qualities to this kind of communication — such as body language — that cause the brain to react slightly differently than other forms, such as written or even video conference. Having a face-to-face ‘kick-off’ meeting among team members is critical to making the distributed team work smoothly. Not only does this humanize the relationships between team members in a way that audio/video simply doesn’t (seemingly for a lack of verisimilitude), but it also encourages some friendship and bonding relationships to form that are a bit tougher to facilitate via pure digital tools.”
How do you keep remote employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture?
Our team communicates regularly on Yammer, FlowDock, GitHub, and via email. We have Google Hangouts daily, and often have company-wide updates or individual “Ask Me Anything” sessions to stay informed and connected with each other.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
We offer time-off to our employees with 24-hour notice. We’re an incredibly collaborative and connected team, so this is important mostly to give your co-workers notice about when you’ll be available. We also employ a Work From Home model, which gives some flexibility for team members with children or those who might have an errand or doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day. It makes the journey of commuting a little less burdensome.
In addition to time off and vacation, we offer sabbatical and generous paternity/maternity leave. After five years with Parse.ly, team members are offered a 5-week, paid sabbatical. Your sabbatical is meant to be taken “all at once” — a nice, extended break from work that could be used to travel, to explore alternative interests, volunteer for an organization, or simply have the world’s greatest paid staycation. Two weeks of this sabbatical can also be preemptively added to your paid maternity/paternity leave, assuming you will stay at the company long enough to earn said sabbatical.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
Yes! At Parse.ly, we believe that a distributed team is an asset, not a problem to be managed. It allows for radical transparency about how we collaborate on projects together, and allows a “swarm” mentality for solving problems. It also gives every employee the flexibility to work when and where they want to — without worrying they don’t have all the tools they need to be productive. It really allows the collective intellect of our employees shine through in every decision.
That said, when you have a co-located team, it’s easy to celebrate a big company win by taking everyone out to drinks at the nearest bar, or having a big fancy dinner on the company’s dime. But with a remote team, these team-building gestures aren’t as easy to execute. Parse.ly tries to combat this problem by holding “team retreats” regularly, where we fly a bunch of employees to a single city and celebrate recent company victories together, while also collaborating face-to-face for a few days.
Most recently, the team went to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic!
How do you nurture your company’s culture in a remote work environment?
We have a “take-your-birthday-off” policy that every team member takes advantage of. On a team member’s birthday, our office manager will send out an email wishing that employee a happy birthday, talking about a unique and personal present that the Parse.ly team will be gifting him/her, and encouraging others to offer well-wishes. We have a special email alias for social emails such as this one, and it really helps to foster a sense of well-being and celebration as a team — especially in a remote work environment.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
From CTO Andrew Montalenti:
“Fully distributed teams are only going to get better — and more common — over time. Our tools are simply getting great at this stuff.
For example, Google Hangouts offers group video conferencing for large teams for free. We use Google Hangouts at Parse.ly to hold full team meetings. So, face time is now distributed, too, and multi-computer collaboration is getting easier even in synchronous modes.
I also think some technology will enable collaboration methods that were simply deemed impractical in the age before distributed teams.
So, technology — and, in particular, audio/video technology — will help distributed teams along in the next 10 years. We’re moving away from one-on-one conversation as the primary way to collaborate and toward many-to-many.
I also think that the world has not fully internalized the degree to which technology systems impact collaboration approaches. For example, I don’t think Github is ‘simply’ a code hosting system. It is actually a social experiment that fundamentally changed the way software engineers — in open source projects and in their own company projects — collaborate with one another. Many other experiments like this are happening right now with the new breed of project management, code management, and team collaboration tools. I’m quite excited about the future.
Fully distributed teams are now not only viable, but in many ways superior to co-located teams, especially for software engineering work. I suspect that will continue.”
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
The biggest challenge of a remote team has been building team camaraderie. When we have a company-wide success, like closing a big sale or hitting a quarterly goal, we naturally want to celebrate it. Making sure our remote employees are a part of this celebration is so important, especially because all of our product team works remotely, so they serve an integral role in every one of our successes. We try to work around this with our retreats, which give us a chance to celebrate and get some work done, as well. Last week, we had a big win on the marketing team and decided to go to the spa to celebrate, so we sent a gift certificate to our remote marketing team members and joked about having her join a Google Hangout while she got her nails done. The team culture is still there, despite the difficulty, we just have the opportunity to work even harder at building it and nourishing it.
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
Said Andrew Montalenti:
“We also have become more efficient about communication than the typical non-distributed team. Because we use so many digital tools for capturing discussions, requirements, development progress, artifacts, etc., we have learned to be smart about inter-linking these digital artifacts together and automating systems.
One example is how we handle customer support. Whenever a customer has an issue with one of our products, this is captured in a web-based support tool. Our support team can chat with the customer and then link the customer issue to a ticket in our bug tracker on Github. The support staff can optionally notify an engineer for confirmation via our real-time chat system, Flowdock. Once our engineer closes the ticket and the fix is pushed to production, the customer is notified via the support tool. We have closed hundreds of tickets without having any in-person meetings, ‘all-hands’ planning sessions, or 1:1 phone calls. But what’s more, because all of this activity is web-based, it is also tracked. That lets us create engagement dashboards for different customers, where we take numbers of opened and closed issues into account. Asynchronous communication channels tend to have these “cascading benefits” — the more fully digitized a process, the more prone it is to analysis and optimization. Of course, there are trade-offs, too — and that’s where a team has to apply its judgment.”
What is your favorite business book?
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” – Conrad Hilton